African IQ and the Flynn Effect

November 21, 2011

Average IQ in Sub-Saharan Africa is about 20 points lower than average IQ in Europe, and not the 30+ points proposed by Richard Lynn and his gang. Though that may still seem huge and insurmountable, it's actually normal when placed in the proper historical context. As happened in Europe during the 20th century, it's expected that when living conditions improve in Sub-Saharan Africa, IQ levels will increase, narrowing or even eliminating the gap. This process is known as the Flynn Effect.

In the western world, average IQs have shown remarkable gains over the course of the twentieth century (Flynn, 1984, 1987, 2007). These gains have been largest for non-verbal tests once considered relatively impervious to cultural influences, such as the Raven's (Brouwers et al., 2009). For instance, in the Netherlands an unaltered version of the SPM [Raven's Standard Progressive Matrices] was administered to male military draftees from 1952 to 1982. The 1982 cohort scored approximately 20 IQ points higher than the 1952 cohort (Flynn, 1987). In this section, we consider whether a Flynn Effect has occurred among Africans on the Raven's tests.


Proposed causes of the Flynn Effect include improvements in test-specific skills (Greenfield, 1998; Wicherts et al., 2004), improvements in nutrition (Lynn, 1989, 1990), urbanization (Barber, 2005), improvements in health care (Williams, 1998), a trend towards smaller families (Zajonc & Mullally, 1997), increases in educational attainment (Ceci, 1991), greater environmental complexity (Schooler, 1998), and the working of genotype by environment correlation in the increasing presence of more intelligent others (Dickens & Flynn, 2001). Many of these environmental variables have not undergone the improvement in developing sub-Saharan African countries that they have in the developed world over the last century. This suggests that the Flynn Effect has great potential in sub-Saharan Africa (Wicherts, Borsboom, & Dolan, 2010b).


Although the implications of our psychometric findings for the potential of the Flynn Effect in sub-Saharan Africa remain unclear, the Raven's tests and other IQ tests have shown robust increases in many populations (Daley et al., 2003; Flynn, 2007). So suppose that there were a well-validated IQ test that showed measurement invariant scores between westerners and Africans. Even then, lower IQs of Africans still would not support Lynn and Vanhanen's (2002, 2006) assertion that countries in sub-Saharan Africa are poorly developed economically because of their low "national IQ". Wicherts, Borsboom, and Dolan (2010b) found that "national IQs" are rather strongly confounded with the developmental status of countries. Given the well-documented Flynn Effect, we know that "national IQs" are subject to change. An average IQ around 80 among Africans may appear to be low, but from a historical perspective this average is not low at all. A representative sample of British adults, who took the SPM in 1948 would have an average IQ of 81 in terms of the British norms of 1992 (J. C. Raven, 1960; J. C. Raven et al., 1996). Using older British norms, the average IQ of Africans would be much closer to 100. This is evident in Figure 2, where we compared SPM scores of Africans to older norms. In this figure, the average IQ of several African samples is near or above 100.

Present-day sub-Saharan Africa is one of the poorest regions in the world and the home to some of the world's most deprived children. The majority of sub-Saharan children are chronically malnourished, not only from lack of food but particularly from food lacking vital elements related to both physical growth and intellectual development. It has been estimated that up to 70 percent of rural children live in absolute poverty and 90 percent suffer severe deprivation (Gordon, Nancy, Pantazis, Pemberton, & Townsend, 2003). A substantial number of sub-Saharan African children are under-educated. According to Garcia, Gillian, and Dunkelberg (2008), only about 12 percent of sub-Sahara African children have attended preschool, and this generally for well less than a year. They note that children who do not attend or have only minimal experience in pre-primary school tend to do less well in primary school than children who have had that experience. Further, it is important that the preschool experience be successful. For example, Jaramillo and Mingat (2008) have shown that children who have a poor experience in preschool and have to repeat a year or part of a year have a high drop-out rate in primary school (r = -0.875). The probability of preschool without repetition and who complete primary school is low but positive (r = 0.209). With or without preschool experience, approximately only fifty-five percent of 10-14 year-olds in sub-Saharan Africa complete primary school.


Many of the variables that have been proposed as causes of the Flynn Effect (e.g., Barber, 2005; Ceci, 1991; Dickens & Flynn, 2001; Greenfield, 1998; Lynn, 1989; Schooler, 1998; Williams, 1998) have yet to undergo improvement in developing sub-Saharan African countries that they have enjoyed in the developed world over the last century. Because the environmental variables that potentially contribute to enhanced IQ have yet to improve in the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, we regard the Flynn Effect as still in its infancy. There is in fact considerable empirical support that (mal)nutrition (Grantham-McGregor & Baker-Henningham, 2007; Sigman & Whaley, 1998), health (Williams, 1998), sanitation (Boivin et al., 1993), and schooling (Ceci, 1991) have an effect on IQ. The UN have included such variables in the so-called Millennium Goals, i.e., they are targeted for improvement by 2015 (United Nations, 2005). The formulation of the Millennium Goals provides an interesting opportunity to evaluate the effect of these factors on IQ levels in sub-Saharan Africa. There is now a clear indication that the Flynn Effect seems to have come to a halt in developed nations (Flynn, 2007). It is, therefore, reasonable to think that as circumstances in sub-Saharan Africa improve, the IQ gap between western samples and African samples will diminish.


The vast literature on IQ testing with the Raven's tests in Africa does not support James Watson's pessimism concerning the prospects of Africa. It is true that Africans show lower average IQs as compared to contemporary western norms, although the IQ gap is substantially smaller than Lynn (and Vanhanen) have maintained. More importantly, there is little scientific basis for the assertion that the observed lower IQs of Africans are evidence of lower levels of general intelligence or g. The validity of the Raven's tests among Africans needs to be studied further before these tests can be used to assess Africans' cognitive ability in educational and professional settings. There are several reasons to expect increases in IQ levels among sub-Saharan Africans in the coming decades.

Wicherts et al. "Raven's Test Performance of Sub-Saharan Africans: Average Performance, Psychometric Properties, and the Flynn Effect". Learning and Individual Differences, 2010.

Related: Parasite prevalence and cognitive development


Anonymous said...

This is a fascinating topic and deserves much more widespread exposure in the media, academia, and the political sphere.

Has anyone studied the IQs of well to do African children, who benefit from the best food, medical care, and education? That should tell us a great deal about the environmental influences on IQ in Africans.

If the average IQ of randomly selected well-to-do Africans at various ages was comparable to the average IQ of Europeans and East Asians, we would have our answer.

Diogenes said...

why all Jews aren't pure geniuses but have a quasi normal Gauss Curve (with perhaps some selection of better achievements as selected for harsh conditioons of surviving along centuries of persecution...? They were also Among Others... who were 70% of lower level than them, all along the centuries?
Why didn't sub saharians EVOLUATE more and better like other populations did?
I should better hear that we have ON clear explanation, instead of being drown in politically correctness!

Chuck11 said...

"Though that may still seem huge and insurmountable, it's actually normal when placed in the proper historical context."

It would be interesting to see if the African-European IQ gap was g-loaded like the US Black-White gap and unlike the secular gap. My guess is "Yes."

"Secular score gains are predominantly driven by environmental factors and might these factors also be responsible for group differences in intelligence? Is the pattern of secular score gains the same as the pattern of group differences? Group differences are strongly linked to g loadings, but the literature up to now yields conflicting findings concerning the link between g loadings and score gains, so additional studies are required. We used a number of datasets, which showed that the method of correlated vectors yields a small negative average correlation between score gains and g loadings. So, the general picture is now that of a small negative correlation between g loadings and gains. It appears that the Flynn effect and group differences have different correlations with g loadings, which suggests they have different causes." (te Nijenhuis, 2012. The Flynn effect, group differences, and g loadings)

idealart said...

"Present-day sub-Saharan Africa is one of the poorest regions in the world and the home to some of the world's most deprived children."

Maybe they are poor because of low IQ or some other genetic characteristic.

"Has anyone studied the IQs of well to do African children, who benefit from the best food, medical care, and education?"

Yes. Washington, DC. No increase in IQ in the past 45 years. Billions of dollars spent. Bright young liberals descending to "lift up" the scores. Access to the best and brightest white culture. No dice.

idealart said...

From the diary of Frére Louis, a priest living in the Congo:

"We are living in a situation of pure and simple cannibalism. The may-may plunder, rape and kill the civilian population. They then eath their meat, raw or smoked. This is true for the May-MAy chief Kabale, who was killed recently (15/05/2006) by the population of Kayumba."

I just selected some random pages of the 131 page long document and copied these excerpt. It is an endless accumulation of horror witness reports. All of this happened on a large scale, and only covers the area where Frére Louis operates in.

See more here.

Racial Reality said...


Don't make unsupported claims, and stop spamming irrelevant material.

idealart said...

You can twist statistics anyway you want, buddy.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

This article ignores people of African descent outside of Africa. In the US, for example, the black IQ has increased with the flynn affect at the exact same rate as the white IQ. However the gap is still about 15 points.

aleksandr said...

The prior anonymous has made my point: what about black populations outside Africa? The only relative gains of black populations outside Africa when compared to european caucasoids or far-northeastern asians has been through interracial reproduction.

By the way, I want to make clear that I don't have any personal interest in asserting the hypothesis of a "lower genetic IQ" in africans, but you'll see: these authors are stating the egalitarian case exactly in the same way that it was stated in the nineties, eighties, seventies and sixties. It's like a neverending debate.

Has anybody here noticed the recent polemic between Rod Dreher, editor of The American Conservative (a well known egalitarian) and the defenders of the "genetic low IW" hypothesis? Essentially, Rod Dreher stated this same position and he was completely crushed.

jensen said...

This is nonsense. The Flynn effect may bring gains to SSAs but the same phenomenon will apply to all other populations as well. The g determined gap will remain constant as it does in the US where headstart and all the other costly educational policy experiments have yet to shrink the constant 1.1 sd gap (constant over a century of testing) between blacks and whites although both groups are beneficiaries of the Flynn effect. You can´t buck the genetic hereditability loading of IQ which is ca. 80% in adults.

Anonymous said...

Everybody is forgetting the admixtures of whites into Black popmlations which changed the gene pool of these persons out of Africa. Now we need explanations which aren't only either genetical vague blabla nor biased statistics. Before testing IQ it seems necessary to sequence how much recent western genes entered the pool and compare with relatively pure african genes pool's IQ results

Racial Reality said...


Read the post before commenting. Wicherts et al. says:

"There is now a clear indication that the Flynn Effect seems to have come to a halt in developed nations (Flynn, 2007). It is, therefore, reasonable to think that as circumstances in sub-Saharan Africa improve, the IQ gap between western samples and African samples will diminish."

Diogenes said...

But the Gap between people of a same sample of population remains unchanged....
Why aren't all French or US at 146 points IQ.... since the times they started to be evoluated and educated...a couple of centuries ago ????
Why aren't ALL the Jews ONLY over-talented Nobel, but also a lot of beggars and under the level of poverty ? Even in US and Israel???How long do you consider the gap between French idiots, and French Geniuses and average University talented people, will vanish???

Elias said...

This is nonsense, blacks in an American school were given lot of funding from bleeding heart liberals, enough to warrant a field trip to Czecho republic and there was no increase in academic performance, this would prove that flynn effect is nonsense and IQ is mostly genetic...

Anonymous said...

Frankly, if the gap in SSA is 20IQ points; and gap in USA is 12-15IQ points; does it mean that all the poorest environment can do is depress scores by 5 points?

I mean, why the assumption that after getting SSA to the well-being level of USA, the gap will dissappear?

Bris said...

I'm sick of hearing all the excuses about why Blacks consistently underperform in IQ tests.

Japan took less than 50 years to transform form a Medieval agrarian economy to an advanced industrial economy.

South Korea was the poorest nation on Earth in 1950. It is now one of the most technologically advanced.

Poverty and malnutrition is far worse in India and China than any Black community in the USA.

Many poverty stricken Jewish refugees from Europe became rich or reached the highest levels of medicine and academia in as little as ONE generation.

Unknown said...

If you guys want an example of a improving Africa Nation I would look up Botswana before making generalizations. BTW I find it funny how people give singular nation examples when SS Africa is A WHOLE culturally and politically diverse region which varies on hinderances like corruption/disease/poverty and etc. So Far Botswana is catching up with Turkey and Mexico.

Friedrich der Große said...

I think the conclusions reached about Africa having an "IQ renaissance" in the coming decades is specious at best. It assumes that all the observed differences are "environmental". I'm not buying that.

The average IQs of "African Americans" in the US is about a standard deviation lower than the "whites" there. Here we have the same environment afforded to all, and if the African hypothesis were true, you would expect that the "blacks" in the US test out to be equivalent to "whites" there.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Now, I think that in many generations, perhaps the African IQ could improve assuming the forces of natural selection favours it. But we have another problem here, as those Africans that are born more intelligent eventual leave Africa to live in Europe and the US, perhaps other places in the world. Brain Drain, taking their superior genetics with them. Why would they stay anyway? There is no infrastructure in Africa that would support their intelligence, and their lives may even be at risk as well.

Africa is an unfortunate problem which I don't know how to solve, unless you find some way to convince the few born more intelligent to actually stay AND have more progeny of their own there. But they are intelligent enough to know that those living conditions are not what they want for their kids, especially since many alternatives in the world are open to them.

We actually see the same situation in the US, in miniature. Those poor "blacks" in the US tend to live in big enclaves in the cities. A lot of crime and violence exists there, and the more intelligent "blacks" simply leave to live in better, safer areas, to start families and raise kids, etc. What you see on "Black Lightening" is a complete fantasy. Black Lightening, if he were real, would've left the dangerous neighbourhood to protect his kids despite his superpower.

Unknown said...


But, are IQ tests, naep scores not g-loaded?

also, see:

Also, if they don't on 'g', doesn't that simply mean that this 'g factor' doesn't matter all that much?